Garfish claim a top position among the most popular monster fish in the aquarium hobby. They are one of the largest freshwater fish belonging to the Lepisosteidae family. The family name Lepisosteus has derived from Greek words which mean “bony scale”.

Mainly there are seven species of Garfish. Among them, Alligator, Spotted, and Florida Gars are the most adapted fish in the aquarium hobby. 

Spotted and Florida Gars are somewhat similar in appearance and care levels. Compared to other species, they are small in size and easy to manage. Therefore many fish keepers who think about Garfish, prefer Spotted or Florida Gars.

Let’s see how to care for gar fish in aquarium habitats, their diets, tank mates, and more.

Overview of Aquarium Gar Fish

All Garfish species have an elongated body and a pointed snout with needle-like teeth and there can be slight changes in the appearance of different species.

Needle like teeth of Alligator gar
Needle-like teeth of Alligator gar

Alligator Gar


Alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) is the most famous species of aquarium garfish. Also, they are the largest of the family, with a maximum recorded length of over 3 meters. Normally they grow up to a weight of 326 lb (148 kg)

Alligator Gars are native to the Central and Southeastern states of the USA and they can be found in various habitats. The Albino version of Alligator gar is known as Platinum Gar.

Florida Gar


The Florida gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus) is a mid-sized fish found in the USA. As its name suggests they are mainly based in Florida. They can grow over 3 ft (91 cm) in length while weighing 1.36 to 4.36 kg (3.0 to 9.6 lb).

Spotted Gar


Spotted gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) is the sister species of Florida gar and the smallest in the family. They grow up to 2–3 ft (0.61–0.91 m) in length and weigh 4-6 lb (1.8–2.7 kg)

Difference Between Spotted & Aligator Gar?

Both Aligator and Spotted gars get olive green or brown at the upper half of the body and the belly is yellowish-white. The main difference between Spotted gar, compared to Aligator gar is their dark spots all over the body and fins. Alligator gar has no such specific markings and has a clear body. 

Both Spotted and Florida Gar have an almost similar appearance and compared to the Alligator gar they are small in size. 

What is the Difference between Spotted Gar & Florida Gar?

Because of their similar appearance, Spotted and Florida gars are difficult to be identified at once. Therefore in many cases, Florida Gar is sold as Spotted in the aquarium hobby. 

Checking under the throat of your gar fish is the only way to be certain of its identity. The isthmus area of a Spotted Gar will contain bony ganoid scales while Florida Gar has not.

Another main difference to identifying Spotted and Florida Gar apart is the length of the head. The Spotted Gar has a much larger distance from the front of the eye to the back of the gill cover. But the Florida Gar has a short distance between the eyes and the gill in comparison to the size of the snout. 

Other than that, Spotted Gar has more clear spots all over the body. But in practice, it’s difficult to identify them solely on the basis of markings. Because in some cases, all of the markings and color patterns observed in real Spotted Gar are also evident in Florida Gar. These similarities may occur due to mixed bloodlines. Also, they can be transitional markings of Florida Gar from juvenile to adulthood.

Can you keep Garfish as a Pet?

Garfish is a popular aquarium fish in the aquarium hobby. But there are some countries in the world and some states in the USA which have prohibited keeping certain species as pets.

In many cases, there are no constraints for Alligator gar. But in the case of Spotted and Florida Gar, there can be constraints because they are known as endangered species.

So you have to check your country’s rules and regulations before getting these fish for your aquarium. You can simply ask for it from your nearest pet shop too.

Another reason for the ban on garfish is that they can be a threat to endemic aquatic life. Because it is one of the most aggressive predatory fish. So it is your responsibility not to put these fish into natural reservoirs.

Tank Conditions (Temperature and PH) 

Required water conditions and temperature can be slightly changed with the species. So as a common measure for all the Gars, 

  • Temperature range from 24 to 30 degrees Celsius 
  • PH level of (6 – 8). 
  • Water hardness (90-447)ppm.

Can Garfish breathe out of water?

When considering the dissolved Oxygen level, garfish can survive even in poorly Oxygenated waters. They are considered facultative air breathers. 

They have gills that take oxygen from the water, like a normal fish, but when theOxygen concentration is low in the water, they come to the surface to gulp air into a specialized swim bladder.

Tank Setup

Garfish live in slow-moving and very dark waters in natural habitats. They usually prefer medium to shallow waters with enough vegetation. 

So when setting up the tank for aquarium garfish, it’s better to keep them in ponds other than the glass tanks. As well as, they should be provided with lowlights.

What’s the Best Aquarium size for a Garfish? 

Alligator gar in aquarium

Gar fish travel miles and miles a day in their natural habitat. So just putting a 2 -foot-long fish in a six-foot-long tank is not right.

Also, they aren’t very flexible when it comes to turning around, so you really need a tank that is at least 4 times their length and twice their size in width. For a 3-4 foot fish, something around 500 or 600 gallons is about right.

What Do Gar Fish Eat? (Diet)

Garfish are ambush predators in the wild and eat almost anything that can fit into their mouths. So sometimes in aquariums, it can be difficult to train your fish to accept dead foods. But don`t worry, after a starvation period, dead foods will eventually be accepted.

Normally in natural habitats, 30% of their food includes other small fish, and 40% is shrimp. So they need a lot of protein. 

Normally they can be fed with Cut-up Tilapia, Raw shrimp, and worms. Also, if you can train them for pallets, it will be easy to provide the necessary Vitamins and other nutrients.

As well, they can be fed with live food too. But it’s also said that once you go with live foods, it’s gonna be tough to come back. 

Usually, feeder fish, small amphibians, and crustaceans can be given as live foods. But be sure those feeder fish are properly quarantined and haven’t any diseases.

How often should you feed a Garfish?

For juvenile fish, feed twice a day with enough diet and reduce the frequency when the fish grows up. Usually, once a day is enough for a grown fish. Do not overfeed.

Tankmates for the Gar fish

Gar fish tank mates
Garfish tank mates

Tankmates for the aquarium garfish are gonna depend on the specific fish. Because each fish has a different personality. Here is a list of possible tankmates for Aquarium garfish. But be sure to match their sizes before adding them to the community.

  • Large Pacu
  • Large Catfish
  • Bichirs
  • Polypterus
  • Arapaima
  • Stingray
  • Large Oscar
  • Giant Snakehead
  • Indo Tiger
Alligator gar with Pacu fish
Alligator gar with Pacu fish

Common Diseases of Aquarium Garfish

Garfish is a somewhat hardy fish and easy to maintain with the right attention on time.

But also, there are some sad deals with aquarium garfish. These are somewhat skittish fish. So when they are startled, they just run here and there and try to jump. Then they can be crushed with tank walls or tank decorations and get their spine broken. 

So you should deal with them very carefully and try to avoid sudden movements that can panic them. 

Also, in some cases, the garfish are affected by spine-curving disease. The main reason for this disease is the lack of nutrition and bad water conditions.

Treatments for garfish Spine Curvature Disease

  • Keep the right temperature and water conditions with daily water changes of 40%.
  • Keep the PH between (7-8)
  • Reduce the light level
  • Give a healthy diet with enough Calcium

Gar Fish Breeding in Aquariums

Usually, female garfish are larger than males and they come to sexual maturity after the first decade of their life. Normally in spring, mature gars get ready for breeding. They prefer a somewhat high temperature for breeding. But it is challenging to be bred in domestic aquariums.

Alligator gar in natural habitat
Alligator gar in natural habitat

Females lay thousands of eggs at a time. And the different species have slightly different preferences about where they lay their eggs. Spotted gar spawn in the weedy backwater or a shallow pool. 

Are the Gar eggs Toxic?

Gar eggs are poisonous. People who’ve made the mistake of trying it have got nausea, sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea. Not fatal, but definitely not a good time. 

Are Gar Fish Suitable for your Aquarium?  

Aquarium garfish will be a perfect addition to a monster fish tank. No matter which species, Alligator, Spotted, or Florida gar they’re personable, attractive, and hardy fish that can even survive in slight changes in their habitats. 

Although they can be aggressive, you can make a perfect monster community with the right tank mates. 

The biggest downside of aquarium garfish is their massive size which requires a huge aquarium. But if you could find a Spotted or a Florida gar other than the huge Alligator gars, you can slightly avoid that problem.


I am Prasanjaya who is an aquarium hobbyist for nearly a decade. I wish to help fishkeepers to get accurate and helpful information regarding every aspect of fishkeeping.

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